Saturday, April 3, 2010

Good Friday, Catholic Beliefs, and Fitting In

I ran into a post the other day. It's teaser read something like this: "On 'Good' Friday, Did God Use Torture And Murder To Save The World?"

The blog started with the usual line:
"The FBI just broke up a homegrown Christian terrorist group, the Hutaree, in Michigan. How is it that a religion that claims that followers should turn the other cheek and love their enemies can breed such hate and violence? Unfortunately, Western Christianity has supported holy wars for a millennium, and it is deeply embedded in ideas that will be preached to Christians this 'Good' Friday...."

"...Many Christians today refuse a faith that asks us to be thankful for the torture and murder of Jesus Christ. We are accused of wanting a Pollyanna Christianity without the cross. I ask, what cross? The earliest images of the cross -- dating back to the mid fourth century -- symbolize resurrection, the tree of life, paradise in this world, and the transfiguration of the world by the Spirit. These crosses are not about sacrifice or debt repayment...."
("The Question of the Cross in 'Good' Friday," Rita Nakashima Brock, Ph. D., Religion, Huffington Post)
[I have a policy of linking to my sources. In this case, be aware that, in my opinion, Dr. Nakashima Brock's article is unlikely to ever receive a nihil obstat. I'm also pretty sure that she, and the rest of the Post's supporters, would be appalled if it did.]
The article shows that Dr. Nakashima Brock has what it takes to get one of the more sought-after certificates in academia: a flair for writing; the ability to pick out facts which support a point of view; and the good sense to ignore or dismiss anything that doesn't support the dominant culture's preferred version of reality.1

It's a fact that the Cross, as displayed in churches, did not originally have the suffering Christ on it. At least, not always. I've written about part of the familiar crucifix's history before. There's more to the story - but that will have to wait.

However, I think that one learned doctor's statements, at least, misses an important point: "...These crosses are not about sacrifice or debt repayment..."

I don't doubt that Dr. Nakashima Brock really believes that. It's part of a fairly common set of cultural assumptions.

An Un-American View of Catholicism

Another authority, though, has a somewhat different view of what the Catholic Church, at least, believes about the Golgotha incident.

The short answer to the question, "did God use torture and murder to save the world?" is: yes.
"The Son of God, who came down 'from heaven, not to do [his] own will, but the will of him who sent [him],'413 said on coming into the world, 'Lo, I have come to do your will, O God.' 'And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.'414 From the first moment of his Incarnation the Son embraces the Father's plan of divine salvation in his redemptive mission: 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.'415 The sacrifice of Jesus 'for the sins of the whole world'416 expresses his loving communion with the Father. 'The Father loves me, because I lay down my life,' said the Lord, '[for] I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.'417"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 606)
There's more in Article 4 of the Catechism. (595-623)

That's what Catholics believe: or are supposed to. I'm aware that "intelligent" Americans who identify themselves as Catholic may not. But I'd be a bit concerned if I found myself in agreement with people with the publicly stated views of, say, Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sebelius and denying what the Bible, Tradition and the Magisterium have passed along.

That puts me at odds with some of the assumptions and mores of the culture I grew up in: but that can't be helped.

The Other Guy Isn't Always Wrong

During my time in American academia, I learned and embraced the idea that there is no one "right" culture, and that all other cultures were not "wrong" - just different. The painful self-righteousness of 19th century England (and Europe in general, I gather) didn't, really, make sense then - and certainly doesn't now. This acceptance of what I think is the solid core of cultural relativism is one of the factors that led me to convert to Catholicism.

This willingness to see my culture of origin as something of an outsider isn't comfortable. I'd like to 'fit in,' but that isn't an option. As a devout and informed Catholic, I can't accept every cherished value of contemporary American culture. Any more than I could accept every cherished value of my home culture, if I'd grown up among people who practiced cannibalism. And yes: I know. As I Catholic, I practice cannibalism every time I go to Mass. That got us in very real trouble with Roman authorities: who didn't understand what was going on, any more than the leaders of American culture understand.

I'm not, by the way, an American liberal. I'm not conservative, either: which can be very confusing to someone who assumes that those two systems, and being "moderate," are the only possible philosophical stances. I'm Catholic, and I've written about this before.

I am, however, an American citizen, living in America. Just as my hypothetical former-cannibal alter ego might find things in his culture which could be accepted and even embraced, I find things in American culture that can be accepted and even embraced.

But, just as I'd be concerned if the bishop down the road had the wholehearted approval of the village shaman, I'd be concerned if leaders of the Catholic faith in America had the wholehearted approval of people who believe what Dr. Nakashima Brock appears to promote.

Happily, they don't - for the most part - but that's getting into another topic.

I don't expect the Catholic Church to be accepted by 'real Americans' of any stripe. We were out of step with Rome of the Caesars, we were out of step with the warlords of Europe, we were out of step with the mores of Victorian England and 20th century America - and we'll be out of step with Africa of the next century of the Information Age.

It isn't an easy position to be in, but for me it's the only acceptable one.

Christians and Other Dangerous People

Finally, a word about the learned Doctor's opening sentence: "The FBI just broke up a homegrown Christian terrorist group, the Hutaree, in Michigan...."

I would prefer to assume that Dr. Nakashima Brock understands that not all Christians are like Tony Alamo, Pat Robertson, Joseph Burgess, and the Hutaree who were arrested.

Unhappily, there does seem to be a tendency among America's self-described best and brightest, to assume that the most dangerously insane of people who claim to be Christian are typical of all Christendom. That, in my opinion, is not reasonable.

I also think that it's not reasonable to assuming that every American who tends to vote for Democrats, prefers to breath clean air, and believes that capital punishment is wrong is a bomb-making eco-terrorist. I don't even think that people with that cluster of culturally-normative attitudes is even likely to be some sort of terrorist.

But what do I know? I'm one of those Catholics.

Related posts:
1 It's interesting, by the way, to see that the 'political party / people's revolution against foreign oppressor' model for the early church is still an accepted view. I don't buy it, partly because I have trouble believing that even that eclectic group could have done such a poor job of running a revolution.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.